Suitability of Genetically Modified Foods (GMOs)

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One of the foremost controversial issues within the world over the past few years has been the talk on the suitability of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and their benefits to the human population. the assembly of genetically modified foods, especially , has seen a big increase over the past 20 years . This issue has drawn support also as attracting criticism in equal measure, with each side expressing their opinions elaborately. There are several benefits that citizenry derive from the consumption of GMO foods. On the opposite hand, there exist genuine concerns regarding the harmful effects of the products. This paper provides the facts laid out by each side of the divide, with the aim of building whether the benefits outweigh the repercussions or vice-versa. An elaborate discussion of the facts will go a long way in decision making as to whether the world really needs these products or not. Special attention will be given to the impact of GMO foods on human health as well as the environment.

Before looking at the benefits and harmful effects of these foods, it is important to provide an elaborate understanding of how the GMO technology works. In the creation of GMOs, scientists have to manipulate the genetic composition of an organism in a laboratory. The process entails using recombinant technology to alter the genome of an organism at the molecular stage (Davies and Deroles, 2014). The cells in one organism are genetically manipulated to infuse them with other new cells to produce an organism that possesses the desired characteristics. For instance, the result may be a new organism with better quality in the harvested yield or even a disease-resistant organism. The main aim of the process is to create a new organism that overcomes the deficiencies exhibited by the initial organism whose genetic composition has been manipulated. With this understanding, it is now safe to move on to the impact that GMO foods have.

Benefits

The first and most important positive aspect attributed to GMO foods is the improvement in their quality. GMO products are usually of better quality as the scientists strive to produce products with better taste and nutritional benefits. The foods are richer in terms of nutritional composition. They usually possess a higher mineral and vitamin content which is helpful for the prevention of nutrient-deficiency diseases (Klümper and Qaim, 2014). Their consumption thus contributes to a healthier society, with people who can carry out their work and other daily activities with increased vigor. With the improvement in the quality of these foods, it enables them to last longer before going bad or expiring. Some of them can stay fresh for longer even without the need to have them refrigerated. Additionally, they have a longer shelf-life, which provides an added advantage to traders as they do not have to worry about their commodities expiring in their shops. This aspect helps them increase their profits.

Genetically modified plants have the capability of producing increased yields in terms of the quantity of food harvested. For instance, one hectare of GMO maize can produce more bags of corn than the ordinary variety. The increase in production implies that households and governments can feed more individuals. The technology is thus appropriate for countries and regions with high human and animal populations. One of the goals in the Millennium Development Goals (MGGs) and the newly-formulated Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is to eliminate hunger across the globe. Some regions such as the arid areas of Africa would greatly befit from this technology as they would be able to feed their citizens and even have surplus production that may come in handy during emergency situations. Humanitarian organizations like the Red Cross Society can also benefit from GMO technology as they can obtain large quantities of food to supply to people in need of relief food such as refugees and other victims of natural calamities (Prado et al., 2014).

GMO crops also boast of having a higher resistance to pests and common crop diseases. Pests and diseases account for the largest portion of losses in the agricultural sector. In extreme scenarios, farmers lose a significant share of their expected harvest to crops and pests. Pests eat up the crops, thus preventing them from attaining their maturity. The same happens when diseases attack crops. At times, diseases may affect the entire crop, leading to very little or no harvests. Farmers incur very high costs in fighting crop diseases and pests. These expenses arise when they buy pesticides and herbicides to protect the crops. However, GMOs are specially modified to have traits which can repel the pests as well as making them resistant to diseases. It is thus wiser to invest in the cultivation of GMO crops as this eliminates the need to purchase herbicides and pesticides. Farmers can thus harvest high yields in addition to having a reduced cost of production (Gruissem, 2014). Individuals practicing commercial agriculture also earn higher profits due to the lower production costs.

As a rejoinder to the point discussed above, the reduction in the use of herbicides and pesticides also has its environmental benefits. Environmental pollution is currently a menace in the world today, and agricultural chemicals contribute to this problem significantly. When farmers spray their crops, the chemicals infiltrate the ground thus adversely affecting the chemical composition of the soil. In turn, it may affect the soil’s fertility and reduce its agricultural viability. Furthermore, the chemicals may evaporate into the atmosphere thus causing air pollution. Rainwater can also drain the chemicals into large water bodies such as lakes and rivers, thus polluting the water and harming the aquatic organisms in the water bodies. The advantage with cultivating GMO crops is that they are pest and disease-resistant and therefore do not require the use of pesticides and herbicides. This reduces the costs as well as eliminating the possibility of environmental pollution.

Investing in the cultivation of GMO foods increases the number of food crops available in the market. This factor is enhanced by the fact that these crops produce higher yields when harvested. Therefore, it creates an abundance of food resources available for consumption and trade. Farmers and traders are thus able to retail their food crops at lower prices that are affordable to the average consumer. According to the law of demand, lower commodity prices lead to increased demand. This will also be the case in the food industry. In global markets, food prices play a crucial role in determining the levels of inflation. Increased production of GMO foods thus ensures stable food prices, significantly contributing in the curbing of inflation rates.

Another benefit with GMO foods is that their crops are engineered in such a way that they are drought-resistant. To this effect, they can survive and flourish in areas with harsh weather conditions such as the arid and semi-arid regions (ASALs). What this means is that regions that are traditionally considered as agriculturally non-viable can be converted into agricultural zones. Regions such as North Africa which are mainly deserts can be put into better use whereby they can feed the populations living in the region. Agriculture can be a viable source of employment to the inhabitants. Farming in the arid regions would also reduce the pressure on the existing pressure on land covered by forests and other natural vegetation. Such areas are usually cleared to create space for cultivation. However, if people can farm GMO crops in the arid areas, the rate of deforestation would reduce, contributing immensely to environmental preservation and conservation.

Finally, investment in the area of GMO foods has greatly boosted the area of innovation and technology. Food science is now an important discipline that is even taught at the highest levels of education. Scientists have conducted intense research in this field and have come up with breath-taking innovations. Some of the fruits in the market today have been fortified with additional vitamins that enhance their nutritional benefits to the consumer. Instead of having to eat, for instance, three types of fruits to obtain three vitamins, one can buy only one particular type of fruit which is genetically modified, say an apple, which contains all the three vitamins. Another breath-taking innovation is in the field of vaccines. Scientists have in the recent past come up with edible vaccines. These may be in the form of fruits or vegetables that have been fortified with medical substances that can act as vaccines, hence protecting the consumer against diseases and infections. With increased support from governments and other research institutions, scientists may in the near future surprise us with new inventions that will change the world for good.

Harmful effects

Having analyzed the benefits derived from these foods, it would be prudent to look at the cons so as to have an all-rounded analysis. First of all, there have been reports of several instances of severe allergic reactions arising from the consumption of genetically modified foods. The reason is that these foods may be fortified with proteins that may not be compatible with the bodies of the consumer. This underlies the fact that GMO foods may not be suitable for all classes of consumers (Kanchiswamy et al., 2015). The benefits can thus only be enjoyed by a particular portion of the population. Consumers thus have to be very careful when purchasing food products from the shops as some of them may be harmful to their bodies. In the event, if such allergic reactions, the victims should consult medical experts so that they are enlightened about the substances that are incompatible with their bodies. This action may go a long way into preventing such reactions in the future.

Another problem with GMO foods is antibiotic efficacy. This refers to the incidence whereby antibiotic drugs taken by human beings to treat certain illnesses become ineffective. It may be partly attributed to the consumption of genetically modified foods. During the genetic engineering of these foods, scientists infuse certain chemicals that possess antibiotic features to enable the crops to become resistant to pests and diseases. When such foods are ingested by humans, the antibiotic features may render the chemicals in antibiotic drugs ineffective (Gurău and Ranchhod, 2016). In this regard, someone may be attempting to treat a particular disease with the right drugs but still continue suffering. Scientists have to undertake further research to overcome this challenge as it cannot be left unattended.

Increased investment in the cultivation of GMO crops may result in the loss of biodiversity. Since these crops are engineered to be pest resistant, their cultivation may lead to the dying off of those particular breeds of pests as they have nothing to feed on. In turn, the pests may be the source of food for other types of birds, animals or insects. In effect, these consumers will eventually perish due to the elimination of their source of food from the food chain (Jacobsen et al., 2013). The result is, therefore, a loss of the biodiversity of a particular region.

Additionally, continued cultivation of GMO crops for consumption may result in environmental dangers is not done correctly. During the process of genetic engineering, scientists modify the genes of the crops to make them resistant to pests and herbicides. This is a dangerous phenomenon because gene transfer may occur. In such an occurrence, the pest and herbicide-resistant genes may cross over to the weeds. In essence, the weeds may also become resistant to herbicides. If this is left to continue without control, it may result in the growth of super weeds which could wipe out the entire vegetation in an area.

Clearly, GMO foods are here to stay, and there is no way their presence in the market can be ignored. Looking at the merits and demerits discussed in the paper, it requires all stakeholders involved to evaluate whether the benefits outweigh the threats posed by these products. My opinion is that GMO foods should be encouraged as they have so far helped to solve some of the world’s major issues such as the fight against hunger and environmental degradation. However, the demerits should not be overlooked. Scientists have to find ways to ensure that the setbacks experienced are worked on for the benefit of the entire human population.

References

Klümper, W., & Qaim, M. (2014). A meta-analysis of the impacts of genetically modified crops. PLoS One, 9(11), e111629.

Prado, J. R., Segers, G., Voelker, T., Carson, D., Dobert, R., Phillips, J., … & Reynolds, T. (2014). Genetically engineered crops: from idea to product. Annual review of plant biology, 65, 769-790.

Gruissem, W. (2015). Genetically modified crops: the truth unveiled. Agriculture & Food Security, 4(1), 1.

Jacobsen, S. E., Sørensen, M., Pedersen, S. M., & Weiner, J. (2013). Feeding the world: genetically modified crops versus agricultural biodiversity. Agronomy for sustainable development, 33(4), 651-662.

Gurău, C., & Ranchhod, A. (2016). The futures of genetically-modified foods: Global threat or panacea?. Futures, 83, 24-36.

Davies, K. M., & Deroles, S. C. (2014). Prospects for the use of plant cell cultures in food biotechnology. Current opinion in biotechnology, 26, 133-140.

Kanchiswamy, C. N., Sargent, D. J., Velasco, R., Maffei, M. E., & Malnoy, M. (2015). Looking forward to genetically edited fruit crops. Trends in biotechnology, 33(2), 62-64.

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